MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE

FLOURISH - The Entropic Mind Hypothesis

July 17, 2024 Michael C. Patterson Season 4 Episode 41
FLOURISH - The Entropic Mind Hypothesis
MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
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MINDRAMP PODCAST - FLOURISH AS YOU AGE
FLOURISH - The Entropic Mind Hypothesis
Jul 17, 2024 Season 4 Episode 41
Michael C. Patterson

Neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris has developed the "Entropic Mind Hypothesis" that suggests our minds operate along a continuum of conscious states ranging from organized and even rigid on one end to the opposite extreme of disorganized, even chaotic at the other. 

Carhart-Harris suggests that our minds work best when they are in the middle of the continuum at a so-called point of "criticality." Our minds flourish, in other words, when we find the middle ground; where our minds are balance yet flexible. 

A strategy for flourishing, therefore, is to become more aware of where are minds are along the entropy continuum and to learn how to move easily from organization to disorganization and back as best suits the situation. 

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Neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris has developed the "Entropic Mind Hypothesis" that suggests our minds operate along a continuum of conscious states ranging from organized and even rigid on one end to the opposite extreme of disorganized, even chaotic at the other. 

Carhart-Harris suggests that our minds work best when they are in the middle of the continuum at a so-called point of "criticality." Our minds flourish, in other words, when we find the middle ground; where our minds are balance yet flexible. 

A strategy for flourishing, therefore, is to become more aware of where are minds are along the entropy continuum and to learn how to move easily from organization to disorganization and back as best suits the situation. 

Support the Show.

Support our work to promote creative aging. Subscribe to the MINDRAMP Podcast.

THE ENTROPIC MIND


Hi. Welcome to the Flourish As You Age podcast. I’m Michael C. Patterson. In this episode I’m launching into an exploration of a concept called The Entropic Mind. Entropy refers to a lack of order and predictability and the tendency of fixed systems to move towards disorganization and chaos. 

When applied to the mind, the rule of entropy suggests that our mind is inevitably moving towards disorganization and chaos.  This is similar to the ageist attitude that an older mind must be weaker than a young mind because over time it inevitably becomes is less stable and organized. 

But the Entropic Mind hypothesis suggests that en effective mind needs more than stability and organization, it also needs flexibility and the ability to break free from established ways of thinking. In fact the neuroscientist who came up with the hypothesis, Robin Carhart-Harris, argues that a well-functioning mind needs to find a balance between flexibility and stability. And further, that in some cases a dose of extreme chaos is just what the mind need to bring it back to its senses.


Human behavior can be seen as a dynamic interplay between novelty and routine. When young, everything is new and surprising. We have to learn all manner of things, from how to walk and grasp objects to how to talk, read and write. As we learn these skills, the required actions become more familiar and eventually many become largely automatic. Novelty turns into routine. 

Many routines will last a lifetime. Once we have learned how to ride a bike, we have that skill forever. William James observed that habits and routines are performed by our unconscious mind. The more useful habits and routines we can relegate to our unconscious mind, the more we free our conscious mind for the exploration of novelty. Intelligence and competence can, in a sense, be measured by the number of useful routines we have managed to accumulate over the years. 

 There is danger, however, in becoming too attached to our routines. We don’t want to become automatons who respond automatically and predictably to every new situation. Nor do we want to rely on routines that have become stale or obsolete. Life is change. To flourish, we need remain open to novelty so that we can modify or replace routines that no longer work well. 

Over the course of a long life, we have adopted, revised, and replaced hundred, if not thousands, of routines.  With experience - hopefully -  we become better at knowing which routines serve us well and which should be abandoned. We settle on routines that have proven useful over the long term. As we mature we tend, therefore, to experience less novelty and rely more heavily on established routines. The danger, of course, is that we can become too reliant on routines and too averse to novelty.  With advanced age we can upset the dynamic interplay of novelty and routine and become overly fixed in our ways, closed-minded, stubborn and dogmatic. If we aren’t careful we can personify the ageist stereotype of the old dog that can’t learn new tricks. 


To flourish as we age, therefore, we need to keep the novelty/routine equation balanced and vital, paying particular attention to the novelty side of the equation.  

The Entropic Mind hypothesis developed by Carhart-Harris can help us understand how to effectively manage this novelty/routine equation. His “Entropic Mind” hypothesis states that the human mind operates across a continuum of different states of consciousness that represent different levels of order and disorder. So, instead of a novelty/routine ratio, Carhart-Harris suggests a dynamic interplay between disorder and order

In this conceptualization, the mind is highly disordered, even chaotic, on one end of the continuum and highly organized, even rigid, on the other end. Carhart-Harris suggests that our minds operate best when they are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and can easily shift between states of flexibility and organization as the situation requires.  This reminds me of McGilchrists advice that our minds work best when the left and right hemispheres collaborate with one another, when there is a balance between our conceptual mind and our experiential mind. In both, the goal is mental balance and flexibility. 

This sweet spot in the center of the entropic continuum centers around a point of “criticality.” Carhart-Harris uses the term - criticality -  to suggest a kind of tipping point at which the mind is poised to switch easily to a different state of mind.  With water, for example, criticality exists at the point when water is about to freeze and turn into ice or when water is about to evaporate.  It could go either way.

In terms of states of mind, the closer to the point of criticality, the greater our cognitive flexibility; the more fluidly we can flow from one state of mind to another.  The further away from the point of criticality, on the other hand, the harder it is to change our state of mind.  The farther we get toward the extreme of rigidity and stasis, the harder it is to break free from habits, routines, prejudices and fixed assumptions.  The farther toward the chaotic side of the continuum the harder it becomes to get the mind stabilized; we struggle to focus, concentrate and keep our thoughts organized.

So from this perspective of the entropic mind, our mind management challenge is figure out how to operate within that nice zone of criticality. Not too rigid. Not too scatter-brained. We want our minds to be fluid and adaptable so that we can flip easily from one mental framework to another, so that we can use the mental framework that works best in the current situation.  

We want to be able to find an optimum balance between changeability and stability, between novelty and routine. We want our minds to operate within this sweet spot in the middle of the entropic continuum and avoid getting stuck at either extreme. 

Remember that a flourishing mind is one that operates in the middle of the entropic continuum. Not too rigid and not too chaotic. A happy and creative mind finds the Goldilocks middle ground. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right. And, “just right” is that point of criticality that can easily move in either direction depending upon the kind of mental state that is needed to deal effectively with the current situation. 

So how does this help us? How can we manage our minds to operate in the middle of the entropic continuum? How can we get our minds to operate more consistently at that point of criticality, of maximum flexibility? 

1) The first step is probably diagnostic. How does your mind usually work. Where on the entropic continuum does your mind generally operate? Do you find yourself operating primarily out of the disorganized end of the continuum, or out of the organized end? 

Does you mind tend to seek stability and feel more comfortable with fixed ideas and concepts? Do you have strong habits and routines that guide your daily behavior? Are your ideas and behaviors relatively fixed and unchangeable? Is it hard to open your mind to new ways of thinking?  Does this orientation serve you well? Or, conversely, is it maladaptive. Does it make you sad, angry, or fearful? 

Or, do you find your mind constantly disorganized and chaotic. Are your thoughts all over the place? Are you never able to focus and concentrate on a single task. Is this fluidity of thought helping you to be more creative, or is it just driving you crazy and making it impossible for you to get anything done? 

If your entropic orientation isn’t serving you well, then the next step would be to resolve to change it. If you are too fixed and rigid, your mental management goal is to loosen up and get your mind working more fluidly. If you are already too loosey-goosey, the mind-management goal is to get more organized. In either case, you want to find the middle way, closer to that Goldilocks point of criticality.


All right. That’s enough for now. In coming podcasts I’ll explore just  how we can learn to move our minds back and forth along the entropic continuum and find that nice middle ground.

Until next time. Be well and enjoy.













Introduction - The Entropic Mind
Novelty & Routine
The Entropic Mind Hypothesis
Criticality
A Flourishing Mind
Strategy - Where on the Entropic Continuum do you operate?
Strategy - Manage your entropic flexibility
Conclusion